Why is the United Nations Organisation (UNO) successful?

Opinion Icon News[2] Opinion

Fri, 6 Nov 2015 Source: Larweh Therson-Cofie

The United Nations Organisation (UNO) was 70 years old on October 24, 2015. It is surprising that the UNO, popularly known as United Nations (UN), has survived 70 years of turbulent international relations while its predecessor, the League of Nations (LN), existed for only 19 years.

The League of Nations was founded in 1920 after the First World War (1914-1918) and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war.

It was believed then that the absence of an international organisation that would provide a forum for debate, decision-making and joint action fostered a state of anarchy and aggression in the world.

The LN was duly established in 1920 with two major objectives – to preserve international peace and security and promote international cooperation based on the principle of non-interference in the sovereignty of individual independent nations and settlement of disputes through diplomacy, debate and joint action.

The Covenant of the LN that spelt out its goals and objectives was a multinational treaty that rested mainly on the principle of balance of power and the force of public opinion. It embodied 26 articles. The seven preceding articles were about membership and legal and institutional framework.

The rest of the articles of the covenant covered treaties, peaceful settlement and change, regional issues and welfare of international institutions.

The Second World War (1939 – 1945) broke out despite the LN and its covenant.

Political commentators and world leaders reckoned that the LN failed to achieve its main objective, that is, to prevent another world war, because its covenant suffered from serious structural and constitutional defects.

Aggressors exploited the weaknesses of the LN and its covenant to advantage because the covenant did not provide a complete guarantee against war. For example, when Japan attacked China from 1931 – 1932, Japan refused to agree to a joint LN action against it under the LN unanimity rule or a loose veto power mechanism.

Other defects of the LN Covenant included – lack of definition of war, lack of proper provision for prevention of war and the so-called cooling system of a three-month waiting period before action. It provided a loophole for an aggressor to act after the cooling-off period.

Besides, Article 16 of the Covenant on application of sanctions on violators of provisions of the covenant was ambiguous and based entirely on voluntary cooperation of members of the LN.

After the Second World War in 1945, world leaders gathered in San Francisco in the United States from April 25 to June 26, 1945 and created another international organisation known as the United Nations Organisation.

They made sure that the Charter of the UNO was properly drafted and its provisions devoid of the constitutional and structural defects of the LN Covenant.

The UNO Charter was concluded and signed by 51 nations on October 24, 1945.

The Charter is set out in 110 articles that provide for six major organs, 15 agencies and other bodies.

Articles one to 51 deal with purposes and principles of the organisation, membership, organs of the UN, the General Assembly, Security Council, peaceful settlement of disputes, threats and breaches to the peace and acts of aggression.

Articles 52 to 110 are about regional agreements, international economic and social cooperation, the Economics and Social Council, declaration on non-self-governing territories, the international trusteeship system, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN Secretariat, and so on.

It is obvious that the UN has succeeded, so far, in achieving its objectives – maintenance of peace and security, international cooperation on economic and social matters and global economic stability.

The UN has performed with remarkable success its duties as an instrument for international peace and security, a forum for debate, for creating and asserting world public opinion, centre for global diplomacy and machinery for multinational economic development.

With properly defined and improved provisions on war, prevention of war, applications of sanctions, effective peace-keeping and peace-enforcing mechanisms and collective security and defence system bolstered by an unambiguous, workable and effective veto power system -- the UN has, in 70 years, managed to prevent another world war.

A test case was in 1950 when 60,000 North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel that divides South Korea and North Korea and made an invasion.

The UN Security Council authorised a joint action led by the US in defence of South Korea under the collective security and defence provisions of the UN Charter.

The first Gulf War that followed the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990 was another test case in which the UN Security Council approved the use of force against an aggressor and violator of the UN Charter.

The Middle East crisis and the state of continuous war between Arab countries and Israel posed a big challenge to the UN system.

Various agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the 1990s have given Palestine a de facto independent status enclosing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The ideological conflict between the two power blocs – the West and East blocs -- fanned the Cold War for several years.

The signing of strategic arms limitation treaties between the Soviet Union (now defunct) and the United States ended the Cold War in the late 1980s.

What lies ahead for the UN?

Although the UN system has performed well since its creation in 1945, there are some issues that call for further reforms. There have been demands for enlargement of the Security Council permanent membership.

For now, the Security Council is composed of five permanent members and some non-permanent members.

Emerging middle level powers such as India, Brazil, South Korea and the African bloc of nations want to be represented at the Security Council as permanent members.

Big powers such as Germany and Japan, that are presently not on the Security Council as permanent members want to be.

The veto power is another controversial issue. Some members of the UN want it to be abolished.

However, some political commentators have argued that the UN system is anchored on the veto power and the collective security and defence mechanisms.

The UN’s effectiveness in the prevention of another world war could be compromised – if the veto power that symbolises and gives meaning to the unanimity rule -- is abolished.

Columnist: Larweh Therson-Cofie